SBJ/January 15 - 21, 2007/This Weeks News

ESPN sells new options for NASCAR

ESPN has been hitting Madison Avenue for the past two months with a sales strategy for NASCAR that emphasizes its “surround” approach.

ESPN’s first race is the Busch Series Daytona 300 on Feb. 17. The network has been offering advertisers four ways to get involved with the network’s NASCAR coverage, but so far advertisers seem most excited about ESPN’s surround strategy, which offers positions on many different platforms, from television to radio to broadband to print.

ESPN is pitching companies on multiplatform
advertising deals like the one sold to Aaron’s.

“This is something that only ESPN can do,” said one ad buyer who asked not to be identified because he is negotiating with the network.

Ad buyers also are bullish about the planned promotion ESPN is putting around its NASCAR races.

“ABC/ESPN will be looking for big premiums as they anticipate growing ratings, as they are a one-stop shop for NASCAR that can promote the sport unlike anyone has before,” said one ad buyer who is planning on buying one of ESPN’s NASCAR packages.

ESPN’s most intriguing offering is an “icon strategy,” which is being pitched to large advertisers. This would attach an advertiser’s brand to an on-air icon that is relevant to something that’s happening during a race. ESPN is pitching six to eight icons. So far, five are in active negotiations or closed. While no advertisers could be confirmed, several announcements are planned for the coming weeks. One advertiser who has seen the icon pitch says ESPN is asking for more than $5 million for this package.

One icon example would be during a red flag, a safety icon would pop up, which, most likely, would be sponsored by an insurance company. The announcer would mention the safety icon and the sponsor. Other icons being pitched include a “nuts-and-bolts” icon to an automotive manufacturer, a “technology” icon, a “wireless communications” icon and a “how-to” icon.

“We heard from advertisers that they want something that would help them cut through the clutter,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “We felt this icon strategy served two purposes: It helped us explain the sport better to both current NASCAR fans and new ones, and it helped an advertiser be associated with a part of the race and the sport that was also in line with their brand.”

ESPN also is pitching packages that tie in on-air and in-store promotions. So far it’s signed Office Depot to such a deal, teaming up on a promotion with small businesses. The winner gets their logo on Carl Edwards’ car, which is sponsored by Office Depot, during the Coca-Cola 600 in May. Deal terms with Office Depot aren’t available, but several media buyers say the network is trying to get several million dollars for this package.

Some advertisers are balking, however, believing that the in-store displays are used to promote ESPN’s race coverage more than their products.

Other packages include multiplatform deals, similar to the one ESPN cut with Aaron’s Sales and Lease Ownership, which is worth seven figures (see related story).

The fourth rung of ESPN’s NASCAR sales strategy is the scatter market, which has not begun to take shape yet.

“This is based upon the model that we did with ‘Monday Night Football,’” Erhardt said. “That is to surround the fan with as many different parts of our mediums, take advantage of advertisers’ desire to activate this sport off-channel and on-channel and utilize our promotional assets.”

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